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Northrop Grumman Tapped for Golden Spike Lunar Lander Design Alternatives

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

January 07, 2013

Northrop Grumman Tapped for Golden Spike Lunar Lander Design Alternatives

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

The Golden Spike Company has signed a contract with aerospace giant Northrop Grumman (News - Alert) Corporate for the design of a new lunar lander to fit in with Golden Spike's commercial architecture for manned lunar exploration. It's an interesting choice with financial terms of the agreement not disclosed.

Northrop Grumman's heritage includes the two companies involved with designing and building the Apollo Lunar Module and its descent engines between 1969 and 1972, Grumman and TRW. A total of six successful landings took place during Apollo, putting two astronauts on the lunar surface and returning them back into lunar orbit.

Golden Spike, launched last month, is the first commercial aerospace company planning to offer routine exploration missions to the surface of the moon by the end of the decade. Most of the hardware the company plans to use already exists, with a lunar lander and surface "moon suits" being the only pieces of hardware that have to be sourced essentially from scratch. 

Image via Shutterstock

To spec out the lander, Northrop Grumman is tasked with "Reviewing requirements and synthesizing a set of study ground rules and assumptions emphasizing system reliability, automated/ground command operability, and affordability; establishing velocity (Δv) budgets from and to low lunar orbit for pragmatic lunar landing sites; exploring a wide variety of Lunar Lander concept options, including staging, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, systems capabilities for exploration, as well as landing site flexibility; and establishing the design trade space and establish pragmatic limits for future more detailed analysis and development," according to a Golden Spike statement printed by Parabolic Arc.

This analysis of alternatives doesn't guarantee Northrop Grumman any follow-upbusiness, however. It should be interesting to see how and if smaller start-up companies fit into Northrop Grumman's work. Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems have both put together significant time and energy developing reusable vertical take-off/vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles for Earth sub-orbital missions, as well as competing in NASA-sponsored lunar lander challenges. Both companies also had their logos listed on a "race car logo" board at Golden Spike's press launch in Washington D.C.

Golden Spike says there's the possibility of "15-20 or more expeditions" in the decade following a first commercial landing on the Moon. The company plans to offer a two man, multi-day expedition on the lunar surface for around $1.5 billion, but it needs to come up around $7 billion in R&D money before it can start sending people to the moon -- maybe less if Northrop Grumman can find an affordable lunar lander concept.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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